'06 Bou chase: hunting
'06 Moo chase: hunting again
Ice Dungeon: ice caving, a bit
Hey, this aint no bullshit...
The 06 Bou Chase...
There I was, mind you, and it was desperate indeed, albeit as usual. Desperate, is when the food gathering season gets threateningly close before you have your gathering device repaired from last season, as usual.
But I got my kayak repaired by replacing the hull, modified to my standards, as you might notice, and left Fairbanks early on the opening day of food gathering season, still desperate on account of the weather. It was raining, hard. It had been raining, hard, a lot. In fact, there may have been more rain in interior Alaska this year, than any other year since the Pleistocene, or at least since the last heavy rain stories were told.
Oh, the story value of this story will become apparent.
Wise to start an adventure in bad weather, because the weather changes, so when you get to where the adventure gets good, the weather is good.
Sometimes the weather does not change.
Last time, at the same place, on the previous web page, the glaring sun was melting the glacier so fast that the river was flooding. Desperate. This time, a year later, only one page later for lack of adventures, there was so much rain that the same river was flooding, as usual. I lined my kayak around one particular outside corner at which the river was noticeably gnawing at the bank of glacial outwash rocks, and looked back to see the water roil over the top, sweep out through remnants of scrappy brush roots clinging to bare pebbles, and looked ahead for higher ground.
Being a glacier river, near the glacier, periodic flooding is the normal condition, but that does not diminish the periodic flood rhetoric.
I was in familiar country, alone, with fine wine and good cigars, knowing that no one else would be there. Kings of old did not have it so good. Did I mention that it was raining, miserably hard? There were moments between passing clouds, when I grabbed my not-water-resistant camera to fool the casual observer into perceiving that it was not all as miserable as I suggest. If you think the pictures diminish the magnitude of my adjectives, I might stop uploading pictures, to preserve the good reputation of my rhetorical exaggerations. The more common pictures would have shown a gray image with a few wet bushes at the bottom of the photo, and blurry water trails across the lens.
I may have mentioned an amusing aspect of lining a kayak up a somewhat fast moving, flat river. When you become practiced at the endeavor, it becomes efficient. You adjust the bow and stern length of the lining rope by feel rather than by looking back at the kayak, to keep the kayak properly positioned in the changing current. So there are few interruptions to change your view ahead, so you are trudging along the edge of the water, watching where you are walking, with half your visual perception being the ground, occupying the primary attention of one eye. The ground will be traveling past you at walking speed. The other half of your view, the river, will be sending messages to your brain primarily through the other eye. That area of visual perception will be noticeably traveling past you at more than twice walking speed, with a different color, texture and light radiance. If circumstance results in your walking on one side of the river for a long time, or in sum a longer time, your brain is going to be twisted toward the river side. You might want to know that before it happens to you, so you will know to close the river side eye for awhile when things become unexplainably uncertain. Recovery time is usually about the time it takes to drink a glass of wine.
On the first evening, after an unusually early start of this adventure, with only an hour more of lining up river I would be at my magnificent high camp. I was at a brush covered rock promontory where the river smacks full face into the rock amid confusion as to where to turn, where I had previously learned certain lessons about the force of fast moving water.
I camped immediately, to replenish my energy and nerve. This upper section of what appears to be a relatively flat but swift glacier river facilitates the opportunity to maintain the tone of one's keen perception of the fine line between comfortable appearances and stark fear in face of sudden disaster.
The return route, moving fast anywhere across the expanse of glacier silt-laden water, washing in varied vectors along and across a lacework of unseen, submerged braids, water commonly colliding with water, at, before or beyond abrupt depth changes between an inch and eight feet, leaves one rapidly deciding which nuance of surface water appearance to follow or desperately attempt to reach, all too often encountering, nose-on, broadside or somewhere in between, the aforementioned one inch depth, effecting a sudden stop and tipping action, and not knowing, while hastily jumping out of the kayak into the water in the middle of the river, if one will land in said one inch of water, or that eight foot deep part of glacier water slightly above freezing. The less of that upper section of river one lines up, the less one must get back down. At the place the water smacks into the rock, I would wisely walk back past on the bank, lining my kayak.
With luck a caribou would show up at my first camp. I gave all the local caribou ample opportunity the following day, and gave the weather the opportunity to change. The day after that I pressed onward in the rain, fog, drizzle and mist, zig zagging across the river to reach the last spot one would line a touring kayak.
High camp is just below the slot the river cuts through the terminal moraine in a single channel of violent water. Back in the early days the broad glacier terminus spread the water out over a mile and a half wide flat of cobbles and pebbles, where now lichens, moss, and the heartiest of small plants and brush are challenging the rule of rock and cold mountain air. My tent spot is on an older patch of rocks, close to the river, that has survived the random slashes of heavy spring run-off. During that time willows grew more roots to better defend that spot's edges from each next random flow of water. It can be washed away at any time, but it is a few inches higher, drier and more secure than anything around it.
This spot offers a flat paradise garden of intriguing new plants, soft moss surface, and beautiful images. The world's finest gardeners, with consulting artists and a climate controlled greenhouse, could not create and sustain such a spot of beauty and intrigue for the enjoyment of those wise enough to not trudge all the way out to an Alaska Range glacier terminus ecosystem. Oh, if you are tempted to do so, you cannot trudge there without a kayak or canoe along the river, and the nerve. The brush, creeks, ponds and swamps preclude walking much distance. And grizzly bears lurk in that brush. Hungry grizzly bears, made irritable by all that rain.
I set about the arduous task of hunting caribou, occasionally looking out my tent when the downpour diminished. The base of the glacier is where the cold air flowing down the surface of the ice meets the warm moist air arriving at the glacier, with obvious results, especially on this trip. The downpours and otherwise near constant drizzle did not invade the comfortable dry spot under the roof of my Stephenson tent, facilitating the total time spent contemplating great and weighty matters, rather than fussing with wet stuff.
Did I mention that I had some fine wine and good cigars, on the rare chance that I might choose to stay in camp, perhaps on a rainy day? This Alaska hunting thing is not for the unlearned.
During lulls in the rain, I unfolded my folding chair, out on the moss-covered deck of glacial pebbles, got comfortable, and watched all that needed to be watched, with the aforementioned accouterments. At one such time, three magnificent bull caribou appeared on the closest ridge top, silhouetted against the clouds, albeit within the bottom edge of the clouds. There was just a bit too much distance and dense wet brush between them and I, to entice me to do anything more than admire them, light a cigar, and scootch more comfortably into my chair, but I made note of their location, in case my attitude changed.
The next day, or one of those rainy days, equipped for the rain, despite my preferences, I set out for a walk-about. The alternative was abject boredom in the tent, looking out through the side windows. A nearby rock bluff on the slope, on my side of the river, was only short walk across the flat. I could gain the bluff without walking through the dense wet brush of the hillside, and command a better view of the valley. Within a few steps from the tent, looking at the bluff, I distinctly remember commenting to myself that I hoped that large dark spot was just a rock face I had not noticed.
Before I unlimbered my binoculars, because it was close, the rock turned into a grizzly bear.
It was only a few steps back to my tent, where I decided I would unfold the folding chair, and watch the admirable physique of the bear in his domain. He was intensely hoovering blueberries on top of the bluff. I contemplated shouting at him, to observe his reaction, but wisdom suggested that I not bother him, so that he might return the favor. Better that he become fully satiated with blueberries. Additionally, he was between me and the aforementioned ridge where the caribou had appeared. Had I been tempted to walk up to the area of the caribou, the bear would notice a caribou hunter walking past him. The conclusion would be obvious. Grizzly bears generally prefer caribou over blueberries, and can walk faster than caribou hunters. Wise to not alert the bear to the caribou for which we were both competing, as I am certain you would concur. This Alaska hunting thing is not for the unlearned.
When the bear occasionally shook the rain water off him, the cloud of mist, accenting the golden tips of his dark hair in the diffuse light of the overcast day, gave him a lingering ghost-like image which has walked through the dreams of many people.
The bear ambled back and forth, gobbling blueberries, like humans gobble pie at pie eating contests. After a couple hours, he blended into the dense brush through which I would be walking when I walked from rock knoll to rock knoll on that hillside, looking for caribou, and eating blueberries, if a caribou did not first walk across the flat to my tent.
That is precisely what I did the following day, occasionally shaking the rain water off my rain coat, without the golden-tipped hair or ghost-like image. The blueberries in the area included a noticeable percentage that were not yet fully ripe, but where the bear was eating, more were ripe. I laced my way among the areas of shorter wet brush, looking for the bear. I got up to the caribou ridge, but the caribou were not in the area.
Not having been that high on that side of the valley in previous years, I casually walked along the ridge to its impressively abrupt intersection with the primary tributary to this glacier river. Whew. Apply a string of your own adjectives to the view down into the type of narrow Alaska Range river valley that you only see on the better post cards. I gotta get a camera that is convenient to carry and weather resistant, but that would cut into my wine budget. I stepped more carefully back from the slippery wet moss on the edge of the cliff I had so casually approached.
These particular hillsides at the edge of the bare rock of the glaciated Alaska Range are vegetated with what grows on rock and water alone, and a few little dirt patches that produce delightful accents of colorful flowers clustered in sheltered spots. One cannot avoid smiling upon encountering the bright flowers.
The days passed. The rain continued, with an occasional pause, and even a small, fleeting spot of blue sky one day. I walked about a bit here and there. A young peregrine falcon, new to the world, from its nesting site on a nearby cliff, circled around me and landed on a close rock, watching me, and cackling at me, his first view of a human. His parents flew overhead, circling up nearly out of sight, even in my binoculars, and played, diving on each other as they came the long distance back down to earth. A pair of larger gray Gyr falcons, also with a nest on a nearby cliff, occasionally cruised across the flat, perching awhile on boulders by the glacier moraine. Marsh hawks floated and swooped above the flat, looking for food scampering between sparse bushes. A pair of golden eagles, with a large stick nest on a cliff by an impressive waterfall, played in the sky. At those times when the rain was not dense, a golden eagle could usually be seen sitting on one of the many rock knobs bordering the flats. I was amused to watch one such eagle waddling between close rock knolls, spreading his wings for balance, occasionally shaking water off, preening his feathers, looking out over the river valley and up at the sky, and generally appearing to be disgusted with the rain.
Three large bull moose with banner antlers stood above the brush on the far hillside where I have previously chased moose. When they lay down, or step down into a depression or draw, they disappear in the dense brush. When they stand up, they loom as dark giants on the hill. A big bull moose can be standing in the moose-high brush, eating leaves, with only its large antlers sticking up, creating a comical show of two quizzical shapes making strange bobbing movements in unison. One day a cow caribou came close enough to hear the moose in the brush, and vice versa, both visible to me on the other side of the valley. They stood intensely looking toward each other, evaluating the noise each had made before they each stopped to listen and look for a long time.
Four river otters scampered around on the shore one day, running into the water and swimming back and forth in the swift current, rolling over each other and such stuff, delighted to be otters, as usual.
I was perplexed by a couple odd small white creatures across the flat, for awhile, until I looked through the spotting scope to recognize the necks and heads of two swans, above the brush that mostly hid them while swimming on a beaver pond.
Mergansers would occasionally fly close by, upstream, and shortly return downstream, having encountered the glacier and its lack of fishing potential. An unusual rufous-crowned sparrow, quite different from the bird book photos, flitted about the brush around my tent, distracting me from the arduous task of looking for caribou.
A few caribou brush herds, with antlers arching above the low dense mist, in the direction of the prevailing down-glacier wind, occasionally ambled across the flat, attracting my attention, but turned back into brush when the mist cleared.
Four large bull caribou on the far hillside, well beyond my chasing interest, grazed and acted like caribou act, offering a good show. Caribou are skittish. For reasons known only to caribou minds, or perhaps not known, they sometimes make sudden movements, running hither and fro, and back again. It is often a reaction to bothersome insects, or illusions. One bull was methodically sniffing the ground as would a dog, and jumping away when he smelled something unusual, or maybe just jumping away without smelling something unusual. Caribou are most amusing when they rise up on their hind legs, dance a bit, and snort. Caribou think weird thoughts, and display the results. A cow caribou walked across the flat to the river, near my tent, then back and forth along the river. It stepped into the river, stepped back, shook the water off its feet, and casually walked back across the flat. I would have done the same thing. That water is cold.
While sitting about during one lull in the rain, I enjoyed a fine JR Ultimate Number 1 maduro cigar to accent the fresh glacier-purified air of the Alaska Range cleansed in the mist of new-formed clouds gently wafting along the green hillsides gracing my obscure camp lost to the view of the world. Damn poisonous stuff that tobacco, but you cannot tell a good cigar story without smoking a bit of it. Way out in the mountains is a good place to smoke it because no one else must endure the stink.
A cow, calf and small bull bou appeared on the flat near my tent. But they saw me before I saw them, perhaps because of the cigar smoke in front of my eyes, so they scooted farther downstream to cross the river over to my side. I hastily scooted down to intersect their path into the brush, and got there first, but in the brush. They ran back to the river in the open. I sneaked out to the edge of the brush. But while I was crouched down sneaking behind the brush, they wheeled and bolted back to the brush, a bit further downstream, before I got out of the brush to see them go into the brush. Sometimes you get the bou, and sometimes the bou get to the brush. Back to the tent.
It was while somewhere in that brush, intent on chasing the bou, that I glanced down in hasty passing to see a classic old fire ring of rocks, way old. The pebbles were even with the tops of the large rocks. Other people at long prior times had waited for the ancestors of the caribou I was chasing.
I had appointed the adventure with truly fine wine, as of course a gentleman would do on a gentleman's caribou hunt. A Tefft Cellars 02 Cab, and a Lamborn Family 99 Zin. You might wish to enjoy their fine wines. And send me a bottle. Vinticulturally astute that you are, if that long word is correctly used in this regard, you will notice that the flavor of wine will be different in significantly different settings. Wine enjoyed in the comfort of a room, tastes different from the same wine consumed on the patio or at the base of an Alaska Range glacier, equally good if not better, and to be sought. Therefore, upon ascertaining a wine of your preference in the common conditions of daily life, secure another bottle specifically for a more dramatic or intriguing setting, and walk or kayak to that setting. In the event that you do not have time to get to that setting, send me the bottle. I will select a comparable setting, and send you the full report. Or I will bring the bottle if you can get me to a good setting, and I will assist you with the rhetorical exaggerations of your report.
The river fluctuated from day to day, about 10 inches, in relation to the intensity of the rain. This was at the head of the drainage, still below the large rain accumulation area of glacier, and below a high tributary valley from another glacier, but above the much greater area of the lower valley and all its tributaries. Therefore the rain did not swell the river as much as it did for lower areas where bridges were washed out.
Another caribou appeared across the flat, grazing, this time long before it could notice me. I casually watched, while sitting in my chair, a glass of fine wine at hand. The bou raised its head. A bull, and a fine one indeed. I glanced about to insure that all was in proper order, and continued watching the bou. The flat is about a mile and a half wide, genuinely flat, with sparse stunted willow and fireweed. The bou ambled back and forth, as bou do, but in sum walking directly in my direction. My tent spot was where bou have crossed that valley for centuries, from a certain feature to a certain feature, which is why grizzly bears frequent the same place.
As the bou got closer, I carefully arranged everything that should be arranged, kneeled down behind my green tent among a few green willows, and waited, occasionally looking around the end of the tent, behind one of said willow bushes. All was in good order. The bou would arrive at the river, less that 100 feet away, on open flat ground, with my kayak conveniently near the river.
For the story value, rather than easily shoot the bou on the other side of the river, I would let it cross to my side and walk around one end of the tent. The bou was noticeably ignorant to my presence. As the bou leisurely stepped down to the river I ascertained that it would walk past the south end of the tent, so I positioned myself appropriately, watching. The bou walked into the shallow part of the river as I slowly moved my head back behind the tent to prepare for the close shot. Curious to watch the bou swimming the deep swift river, a couple seconds later I looked back around the end of the tent.
All I saw was the white rump of the bou in the far distance running down the other side of the river, as fast as bou can run.
My plan proved to be flawless. I got the story value just as I intended, unaltered by any inconvenience of shooting the bou and having to do all that subsequent work. The bou can verify my story, and its value to him.
I laughed robustly.
When you try to get it all, you can easily get nothing.
It may be a gaunt winter with an empty, frost-encrusted freezer.
The bou may not have known precisely what was amiss, but suddenly recognized that something was amiss. Did I mention that caribou are skittish, and practice sudden movements, more sudden than the reaction capabilities of caribou hunters?
The bou kept running down that long river flat for as long as my good binoculars could see him. He may have figured out precisely what was amiss.
Back to the folding chair and the glass of fine wine, watching an occasional pair of glistening white swans glide across the valley between beaver ponds and light green marsh grasses nestled in the higher brush.
But the days had passed. The camp larder was lean. The hunting committee could not be trusted to replenish the larder from local fare. Their stories nourished only the ears, leaving the legs weak. No more caribou walked across the flat to the tent. It became time to leave. Well of course that morning was pouring rain harder than any other day. Loading the kayak in the rain was the task at hand.
No sooner had I completed the wet sopping task, the clouds parted, the sun came through a reasonably sized opening, a bright rainbow sprung forth from the glacier, arched over to the radiant green hillside, and the valley was illuminated in glory.
The river was running fast with all the rain, cutting new channels among the braids. The first few miles went by quickly, albeit with seven full-crunch stops on barely submerged gravel bars, more than I would prefer. There was the delay of carefully lining down past the water that frighteningly smacked into the rock. A couple errant clouds drenched swaths of the route with nearly blinding downpours, but they passed within minutes. The down river water time was two and a half hours to the road, not counting some leisurely stops to stand around absorbing the spectacular view, drink fine wine, the Lamborn zin in the photo, eat convenient blueberries and nagoon berries, and marvel at the concept of the planet.
There we jolly well have it, again.
The 06 Moo Chase...
There you were, mind you, and it is desperate indeed, albeit as usual. If it were not desperate, you would be doing something worthwhile, instead of reading the same old stuff at the same old website. Somebody out there, make a website worth reading! Save us.
Whisky. I am drinking whisky at this very moment. Islay. The story could not otherwise be told.
Well, of course it was the same place as last time, Secret Creek. Just watch these animals awhile. They are creatures of habit. They graze in the same bogs. They drink the same whisky. They tell the same stories.
But this time I was only two hours up creek from the road, dang near spitting distance, barely started. I had no few bottles of fine wine, as you might notice in the evidence photos, and two weeks of gourmet food, the folding chair, cigars and Islay whisky, the same stuff I am drinking right now. The weather was wonderful and the fall colors starting into full color.
I was out in the open on a wide gravel bar, in the middle of an effort to get the kayak around a current-cut corner with deep fast water. I looked up only by chance, still trying to get the 17 foot long kayak in line with the 7 foot sharp turn in the fast current that was pushing the kayak bow away from me. Things were not going well. It was not a time to be inconvenienced with a bull moose up creek walking down creek right toward me, in full view.
First I had to fumble around to get the kayak around the corner, against the current at an angle, and pulled up on the rocks enough to keep it there, in full view of the moose. The moose was still far enough away to not yet notice me, if I did not move around too much. Then I had to weigh the entirety of my two weeks of plans and provisions, only two hours from the road, in contrast to my gaunt freezer full of frost and no caribou. It was desperate. If I returned back to town the next day, I would have to share the wine with friends, and some of them are a questionable lot.
Well, one thing for sure, I learned my lesson on that last story. Whatever I decided, I was not going to stand there in the open and expect the moose to walk right to my kayak before I made a decision. He was already on my side of the creek.
I squatted down, attempting to look like I was not out in full view on a gravel bar near the middle of the creek. I rummaged through the stuff in the kayak, and found my rifle, under the folding chair, and I kinda duck-waddled across the gravel bar, over to the tree line where I could get out of sight before anyone, especially the moose, saw me duck waddling in full view out on the gravel bar.
Okay, so then I was at the tree line beside the creek. The moose was at the same tree line, up creek, just a smidgen too far to shoot, slowly walking in my direction, eating leaves along the way.
Having by then forgot the two week plan, remembering that the freezer was encrusted with frost, and little else, especially no caribou, I sneaked into the woods a bit to be completely out of sight of the moose, and be where I should be when the moose got there.
But what if the moose wandered farther into the woods, away from the creek? Still fully cognizant of the caribou story, I carefully sneaked closer to the moose, and closer, and closer.
After a lot of very careful and very slow sneaking through the woods, just about the time I got to where I had last seen the moose, and there was no moose, I remembered that I had remembered the caribou story. Yet again proof of the dismal failure of the American public schools, especially regarding use of the English language. Tell these victims of public education a caribou story, get them to read it, and even make them write it in plain English. What do they do? They sneak into the woods chasing a moose with a caribou story.
Go ahead, review the moose stories. Do they not state in plain English that it is not possible for a human to sneak up on a moose in the woods, on account of those two huge fully articulated independently pivotable parabolic amplifying moose ears that can hear the sound of even the smell of a human wafting past the softest moss? Well, I was so confused trying to guess what my English 103 teacher required me to know about what she said Charles Dickens really meant with his words that did not state what she stated, and therefore that which Charley did not mean in the stories he wrote, that I could not understand what I meant in the moose story, and so I thought that the caribou story was useful knowledge for the moose. (Note to self: Remember this moose story for the next moose chase. Do not apply it to a caribou.)
Back to the two week plan, quite fortunate for this story. The wine survived the threat of having to be shared with a questionable gaggle of Alaska sorts.
I trust that you carefully noticed the above photo of that guy with the cigar, uploaded only so he can keep telling his cigar stories. Good thing he did not light it.
As you might notice in one of the above photos, I came around a corner and caught an entire row of trees drinking from the creek. A rare photo. The other trees usually warn their colleagues when humans are around.
Back and forth and back and forth up creek. Secret Creek is a meandering creek. After great effort walking around large and convoluted loops, crossing the creek a few times, you often arrive at where you can see through a thin band of trees to see where you were before all that effort, having traveled a very short distance as the raven flies.
Ravens, Feruginous Rough Leg Hawks, Goshawks, Gyr falcons, Merlins, Marsh Hawks, Great Horned Owls, Bald Eagles and other fellow carnivores of the feather drifted by, and sometimes commented on my presence. Not the most secure neighborhood for squirrels and mice, but well populated.
Things were way different from last year. Big rain summer in interior Alaska. High water. All but two of the beaver dams had been completely washed out. But while they where there, and had reformed gravel bars that do not so easily wash out, the flow of the creek was noticeably altered in some places. Things change.
The two similar photos perhaps to the left of these words, are of the same beaver dam, last year and this year. It is one of the two not completely blown out this year. Last year it crossed the entire creek, with a slot in the middle. This year only a remnant was left at one end.
A lot of wolf tracks, and even more bear tracks. I was comforted by the small size of the black bear tracks.
Back and forth, around the loops, across the water, around the next loops. One can flowery-up these Alaska stories to make people imagine leisure in paradise. But it is really just back and forth, trudging onward, like in real life.
There was the matter of coming across a mammoth leg bone fragment on the gravel beside the creek. To carry or stash an extra 7 or so pounds? I decided to carry it to the first camp, and stash it there for the return trip.
I reached my favorite First Night Secret Creek Camp, the first camp pictured above the second camp photos. Some years I have not reached it on the first night. No one had been there the entire year. All the firewood, birch bark, tent anchors, flat table stones and twigs were just as I left them. I moved in, set up the tent, unfolded the chair, poured the wine, and leisurely sat there in paradise viewing the fall colors and even some late flowers. A hawk sat in a nearby treetop looking down at me, and screeched now and again, just like you hear in the outdoor movies.
Later I built a campfire, for the image, whupped up some gourmet grub, poured more wine, and sat around some more. The beaver came out to slap the water a few times, as usual.
Among others, the better bottles of this year's moose chase vinticultural selection were a Horizon's Edge merlot, Lamborn Family zin and of course a Tefft Cellars cabernet. The cigars were a modicum of JR Ultimate Number 1's, mostly maduro. The emergency Lagavulin 16 Islay Scotch was stocked in the event the hunt lasted longer than the wine cellar stocks in the kayak hold.
Along about 4:AM in the early morning, not yet light out, the beaver did the usual wake-up-the-neighbors thing, like they do every night. This time they were noticeably persistent, invoking a lurking suspicion. Then I heard a sound that was not a beaver.
I was out the tent door, flashlight in hand, quicker than you are reading this sentence, ready to defend my tent, kayak and turf, from bears or mammoths.
There in my headlamp, a few steps away between me and my kayak, were three of the gray wolves who had made my acquaintance at the same spot last year. They were rather surprised by the sudden nature of my full face appearance in close proximity. They stood there staring at me, with an apologetic appearance of blaming the rude awakening on the beaver. We chit-chatted awhile, having not seen each other in a year. Then they walked away behind the nearby bushes, feigning casual disinterest. I stood there awhile longer, enjoying the pleasant morning air, unlike the tent air, then looked back at the bushes, where two wolves had come back out on one side, while the other wolf had circled around to the other side, looking at me, still considering their options with the intruder. I retired, having once again stood my ground against what might become mammoths if in the future English teachers fool their victims into believing the sorts of things I was told Charles Dickens really meant. Desperate indeed.
On the morrow it was back and forth, trudging up the creek. There were a few moose tracks to entice me onward, dang few, and not even fresh enough to retain any warmth or smell. You can smell fresh moose tracks. I was less comforted to come around a corner and encounter really big black bear tracks, bigger than the ones in the photo, still fresh. The hair on the neck of my .44 bristled, but I trudged onward, glancing into the brush more often. There were more black bear tracks this year, than any prior year. They were doing what I was doing, trudging along the creek looking for something to eat, often glancing into the brush.
The long desperate day, as usual, with nary a moose to be seen, brought me to another camp in paradise. Camp paradise is flat and dry. I became uncertain as to the effects of the genuinely luscious wine I was enjoying in camp that evening, casually looking over my shoulder on occasion, for moose or mammoths. There was a bit of a splashing noise back down at the nearby bend in the river, just seldom enough to repeatedly disregard it after wondering what the heck was making that little splashing noise. It was different from the occasional gurgling of the wine sloshing from the bottle, into my glass. After awhile, in comfortable camp shoes, rifle on shoulder, full wine glass in hand, I ambled down there to see just what-all this was about. I circled back into the woods, and approached the spot at the top of the cut bank, about six feet above the creek.
I was looking down on about 20 chum salmon in shallow clear water, doing the spawning show in a classic salmon spawning bed, just like in the fisheries movies. In fact, the show was so good, I stood there for an hour or so. There were groups of 2 to 6 salmon at any spot, holding their position against the moderately mild current. Every minute or so one of the males on the stage would bite at another male, so they would both get out of line with the current, drift back downstream a ways, then turn around and swim back into position, next to each other, or nearby. While they were away a few seconds, nearby fish would sometimes swim in to take their positions, and stay with the group until another biting attack would change the line-up. Every once in awhile a female would turn flat side up and suddenly flop up and down through the water, trying to lay eggs, then return to her position. The show was as good as one of those nature movies on TV, with a really big screen.
On the morrow it was back and forth, trudging up the creek. Nary a moose to be seen. Besides the occasional small bear tracks, I encountered another set of really big tracks. Now there were two sets of different large bear tracks, one going up creek, and the other going down creek. I was surrounded.
I passed several ice lenses exposed in the creek banks. Notice the two white vertical sticks in front of the ice lens, in the photos of the dirt cut bank somewhere near these words. The bank is about 15 feet high. The top is a moss covered black spruce bog that burnt a couple years ago. The thick moss covers and insulates a broad flat of ice that is several thousand years old. If I were drinking martinis, I would have chopped into the clear ice, and told you the story of the martini. Give them a great ice story, and these wine drinkers are useless.
I was traveling more efficiently this year, after years of practicing the back and forth routine. I reached the place I had prior stopped two different years. This time I kept going. It is one thing to not remember what is around the next bend that looks like all the other bends. It is another to see what looks like all the other bends, for the first time. Above the previous high point, each bend that looks the same was a new adventure.
I reached a near-vertical rotten rock cliff that rose high above the creek. Well of course I foolishly climbed it, scaring myself, but not nearly as much as I was scared coming back down, unable to see my footholds, clawing at the loose rock, my rifle constantly slipping off my shoulder. Desperate, but I survived. The cliff rose well above the trees, but the top allowed only a view of the trees, no moose, and my kayak below.
Shortly thereafter I was faced with a low waterfall tumbling through a log jam, where the creek had cut off a loop, at a thin bank. A kayak could not go through it. I walked up through the trees beside the log jam. On the other side of the waterfall, the creek looked even more beautiful, and the grass was greener. Well of course I had to get there.
The old loop that curved away from the waterfall still had a bit of water, so I gave it a try. It was a long double loop, with some deep pools, but with some very shallow pebbly drops. I dragged my kayak over the moist pebbles, concerned that I might foolishly shoot a moose above that area, and have to trench my way back down, or carry the moose meat at each shallow spot. On I pressed, because it was just so beautiful up past the log jam, and I had not been there. No one else had been there, perhaps since the early days of gold prospectors walking every creek in Alaska.
I am not suggesting that this was an excessively leisurely adventure, but that evening, I was to be seen walking away from camp, wearing camp shoes, rifle on shoulder, full glass of wonderful wine, variously following the creek bank and strolling through the open birch and spruce forest, occasional autumn leaves drifting down around me, enjoying solitude in a paradise wilderness, as usual, sincerely hoping that I did not encounter a moose. If I shot a moose that far up the creek, above the upper shallow pebble sections, my leisurely attitude would be seriously affronted.
Eleven rowdy mergansers showed up that evening to put on a rowdy merganser show in the creek beside the tent. They were high adrenalin vaudeville actors, and they knew they had an audience sitting in a folding chair. They rapidly paddled around in all directions, then dove for fish, came up looking at each other and directly at me, noticeably expecting applause, not getting any, dove after more fish, and sporadically padded as a group upstream or downstream. A herd of woolly mammoths could have walked past behind me, and I would not have noticed. Maybe they did.
Comfortably late the next morning I successfully escaped back down stream, careful to not look where a moose might be, until I got below the cut-off loop. The 11 rowdy mergansers had waited for me, and kept just far enough ahead of me to put on a show then get around a bend to wait for me again.
On a calm day, the only thing that makes a loud branch-breaking snap in these woods, is a moose, bear or mammoth. The loud snap was ahead of me a short ways as I floated down a calm section of the creek. You can look right at a moose in the trees, and not see it, until it breaks another branch while eating leaves. It was a cow moose. We looked at each other as I floated by a few feet from it. Down stream a bit I pulled over, and sneaked back through the trees, hoping to see a bull with the cow, and saw what you immediately figured out from the previous moose story.
Except for the rock and log obstacles, and various combinations, a few of them accelerating adrenaline production, the floating down part of this creek travel is preferable to the trudging up part, and enhances the imagery of a leisurely trip in paradise.
Some time about noon time I rounded a corner in slow flowing water, and saw a small bull moose on the bank, in full view of course. After the fumbling around part, for the rifle, and confusion as to the decision of whether to make movement to paddle to the best spot, or drift to an adequate spot on the bank, I chose to drift. Then the kayak slightly brushed against a small old tree trunk at water level, protruding out from the shore. It just as well have been a siren and bells to those prior described moose ears. The moose immediately looked right at me, but I shortly floated behind a bush on the bank, reached the bank at a precarious spot, got out of the kayak, stood in an awkward position on a stump protruding over deep water, and shot the moose.
There were the years and places I had to pack heavy loads of moose meat 3 days, and the year I had to carry them 7 steps, and the year I had to carry them 3 steps. This year I had to turn around and set the sacks of meat in the kayak. Desperate.
There was the moment while butchering the moose, vulnerable to the large bear tracks that surrounded me and lurked in the brush, at which a crashing sound in the adjacent trees effected a faster-than-light exchange of my butchering knife for my moose rifle that was now a bear rifle, while the adrenaline obscured my perception of the breeze that had apparently blown down a sizable tree that had waited for that moment. There were at least three ents in the area, judging from the tree laughter I heard.
By evening the moose was in the kayak, but I had not finished the wine.
I floated down stream for an hour or so, away from lurking bear tracks, camped at a place I should have camped on the way up because it was so nice, set up the folding chair, and uncorked a superlative bottle of wine, if you can imagine that.
Did I mention that the northern lights had enhanced the previous two nights, and were now full-on, north horizon to south sky, multiple bands dancing with cascading swirls? They were too much to see looking in any one direction so I got dizzy turning around trying to see them all as much as possible while they were swirling around too. Yet another good reason to enjoy the wine fad out in the far north wildlands, standing on a creek shore gawking at the night sky until your neck gets sore or a bug flies into your mouth agape.
On the morrow I enjoyed another day of the 11 Rowdy Mergansers Show by the troupe of 11 rowdy mergansers who where waiting for me just down stream. The 20 or so salmon were at their spawning bed, still doing the spawning show, and moved only a little to one side as I floated overhead.
At each shallow place in the creek I was thankful that it was not a large moose in the kayak I had to drag over the rocks.
Somehow time slowed down in proportion to the wine I had yet to drink, delaying my schedule. Upon arriving at my First Night Secret Creek Camp, mid afternoon, I debated the issue for a nano duration, and camped immediately in sunshine and fall colors. Almost shot the top off another bottle of wine, with my .44, because it took awhile to find the corkscrew. The object of the wine thing was to reduce the weight of the kayak, because I had to add the weight of the mammoth bone piece. Even at higher water, and a small moose load, the creek has many shallow fans that require dragging the kayak over the rocks. Those do not show up in the photos, on account as the photographer had to help drag the kayak.
Apparently having been scheduled for the trip, the 11 rowdy mergansers were waiting for me the next day, to again put on the 11 Rowdy Merganser Show each time I came around a bend. And for some reason of odd circumstance or a cosmic message yet beyond my understanding, each year I have encountered a lone Canadian goose standing on the bank of this creek. Near the end of the trip a lone Canadian goose stood on the bank and watched me float by.
That last photo is of the mammoth femur fragment, next to one of the bison bones I found on Secret Creek a couple years ago. Not a scrap of meat on them, and I still carried them back. But they are always good for old bone soup.
That's it. That's it. Next year I gotta find another place to chase moose, for the adventure of it.
Ya fer good grief sakes. I gotta do this, I gotta do that. I was supposed to have already overthrown the government. I don't get paid, and I am late again. Now I gotta write last week's ice dungeon story. That means I have to develop the pixels in my camera somewhere on the floor, among a smattering of other projects, including a really cool one I should really do now, and another one too.
I went to the No Notice Monday Night Function, and got handed a disc with some ice dungeon pics, so now I gotta write the story because I think I said I would.
Some time ago, after an exceptional bottle of wine, after a dozen or so mediocre bottles of wine at an Every Thursday Night Barbecue At Dick Flaharty's, I said I would go along on an ice cave function in Secret Glacier, that has a big open easy obvious walk-in main terminus ice cave entrance, ten minutes walking from the car. Usually I can script the script to bag-out of whatever I said I would do, before it happens. This time I failed abjectly, and was faced with my apparent obligation too late to bag out. If that ever happens for my overthrow the government thing, you are going to wake up to an honest government, and anarchy will therefore reign, much to your delight. But that project requires excruciatingly boring paperwork process, so you will most likely have to save yourself from the various governments you so foolishly support, including you government chaps.
If you want to understand the laughably primitive condition of the intellectually void humans, of no worth for saving them from themselves, consider how many Nobel Peace Prizes they have awarded to themselves.
It was another hasty trip to the dungeon, just to make sure nothing was down there. An empty dungeon is a good thing. Wine, meat and gasoline were secured for the endeavor. We drove into the depths of the Alaska Range, albeit only as deep as the highway on the surface. Therein we stopped at Dick's cabin, loaded the larder on our backs, and set out through the snow-covered woods on a trail once trod by Frodo and Samwise. We passed one Ent of whom we knew, and perhaps others who noticeably paid no attention to passing humans. Wild animals lurked back in the trees, watching us.
We removed all the spike boards from around the cabin door that grizzly bears have breached in the past. We opened the wine, then the door, and proceeded to party.
Late into the depths of the Alaska Range winter night, we surpassed even our previous zenith of whatever we discussed while enjoying some of the finest Alaska cabin culinary artistry ever graced with the magnitude of whatever was in those bottles on sale.
Not only did we recover, but we were on the way to the dungeon first thing the following noon.
Hip waders. Is it not embarrassing to be a fully qualified egotistical ice caver, in Alaska, therefore more likely to be festooned in the latest models of the most whizgaget day-glow lime green plastic titanium ice caving gear, which we cannot afford but sounds good, and instead have to put on hip waders, with clunky old fashioned crampons, because we were going to wade on ice and rocks, upstream, through a creek coming out of a glacier, and call that ice caving? Pitiable. That is why I wanted to bag out. Real ice cavers wear climbing boots and do not touch water until it is frozen. We had one real climber with real climbing boots, outers, put over a drysuit, but the suit looked baggy so the rest of us retained our comparative ice caving image.
Worse. Not even around the first corner the ceiling got so low, and the water got so high, me bent over with water lapping at my beard and elbows, that I had to abandon my thick pack full of stuff including the camera, wine and cigars.
Joyce took most the pictures, including the one of we three in the creek before the ceiling lowered at the first corner. She had the good sense to stay outside the cave, and play on the top of the glacier while we were lost somewhere underneath, albeit as usual.
Shortly thereafter, bereft of my camera abandoned with my pack, the ice ceiling vaulted up beyond that which would impress even the old cathedral architects, and God herself if she had not designed it with a few trillion others around the universe. So just imagine us standing thigh deep in the middle of a creek running through an expansive convolution of pure glacier ice parted by the sensuous flow of water gone wild.
There was the matter of the undersides of a few large boulders, directly overhead, hanging from the ice, mostly melted out, but we would lean to one side in passing. Some places the water came around some sharp corners, and curled under the ice wall it hit. We leaned away from those places too. The silt-laden water roiling around bolders and large blocks of fallen ice offered a footing game more wisely played on a video screen. I gotta learn how to play those video games in a warm dry room with a glass of wine. There were sharp turns and long curves that may have made a full circle in the dark. The high vaulted ceiling dropped down another time to rub our noses against the water, much to our consideration of its volume trend.
It was all very straightforward weaving through the glacier against the hydrological and political currents. We occasionally came upon a nice pebble beach where we would sit awhile, turn off the headlights, and search for any errant photon, without success. At a significant but unknown distance into the glacier we rhetoricalized ourselves into perceiving the effects of the common lack of ice cave oxygen with elevated methane from 500 year old decaying pollen saturating the glacier ice, but pressed on with our self-impaired judgment and diminishing batteries, as usual. There were no obstacles worthy of our grand skills, until the water got to the hip wader limit, which was the limit of our skills.
In the black void beyond the ability of our headlamps, upstream around another corner that was certainly there, we heard some sounds that you do not want to ever hear, but we saw nothing and gave the sounds no chance to come into sight.
Walking down a thigh deep swift stream is a lot easier than walking up it.
That's it. That's it. We were outta there. Nothing was in the ice dungeon. That is the full report, for which we are thankful.
Did I mention that we were playing on the Denali Fault?
There may be more stories after I see what-all on my desk is too late to get done anyway.